The Dead Secret

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Overview

"I want something I can "read" read." That's a sentiment familiar to most readers, expressive of a desire for a thumping good tale, for stirringly compelling storytelling. The immensely popular Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins has long been a favorite with those who find themselves in the mood to "read" read. Originally published in 1857, The Dead Secret, with its powerful blend of sensational drama and gripping psychological portraiture, shows Collins to be a master ...
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The Dead Secret (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

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Overview

"I want something I can "read" read." That's a sentiment familiar to most readers, expressive of a desire for a thumping good tale, for stirringly compelling storytelling. The immensely popular Victorian novelist Wilkie Collins has long been a favorite with those who find themselves in the mood to "read" read. Originally published in 1857, The Dead Secret, with its powerful blend of sensational drama and gripping psychological portraiture, shows Collins to be a master storyteller indeed.
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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Master Victorian entertainer Collins's fourth novel, and the first to be serialized in weekly installments, dates from 1857. It begins at Porthgenna Tower, the Cornish estate of Captain Treverton, at the deathbed of the Captain's wife. Before she dies, she insists on having her trusted maid, Sarah Leeson, write her husband a letter giving an account of a secret only the two women share, and swear, on pain of haunting, not to destroy the letter or to take it away from Porthgenna herself. Scrupulously following her mistress's bidding, Sarah hides the letter in an unused room of the Tower, leaves a note telling Treverton that his wife confided a secret to her she is afraid to reveal to him—and then vanishes from Cornwall, leaving the house, which Treverton has come to hate, to be abandoned, then purchased by a family whose blind son, Leonard Frankland, marries the Captain's daughter Rosamond years later when the real complications get underway. Modern readers, who will have no trouble figuring out the dead secret long before the characters do, are more likely to be engaged by the Dickensian minor characters, the hints of long-dormant intrigue, the heavy-breathing melodrama Collins would bring to perfection only three years later in The Woman in White, and, almost as an afterthought, the implied portrait of a whole social order few novelists in our more knowing time would ever attempt.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780486237756
  • Publisher: Dover Publications
  • Publication date: 2/1/1979
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Pages: 359
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.41 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Meet the Author

Wilkie Collins

Ira B. Nadel is Professor of English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

Biography

Wilkie Collins has long been overshadowed by his friend and collaborator Charles Dickens -- unfortunately for readers who have consequently not discovered one of literature's most compelling writers. His novels are ceremonious and none too brief; they are also irresistible. Take the opening lines of his 1852 story of marital deceit, Basil: "What am I now about to write? The history of little more than the events of one year, out of the twenty-four years of my life. Why do I undertake such an employment as this? Perhaps, because I think that my narrative may do good; because I hope that, one day, it may be put to some warning use." It's a typical Collins opening, one that draws the reader in with a tone that's personal, but carries formality and import.

With his long, frizzy black beard and wide, sloping forehead, Collins looked like a grandfatherly type, even in his 30s. But his thinking and lifestyle were unconventional, even a bit ahead of his time. His characters (particularly the women) have a Henry James–like predilection for bucking social mores, and he occasionally found his work under attack by morality-mongers. Collins was well aware of his books' potential to offend certain Victorian sensibilities, and there is evidence in some of his writings that he was prepared for it, if not welcoming of it. He writes in the preface to Armadale, his 1866 novel about a father's deathbed murder confession, "Estimated by the clap-trap morality of the present day, this may be a very daring book. Judged by the Christian morality which is of all time, it is only a book that is daring enough to speak the truth."

Collins began his career by writing his painter father's biography. He gained popularity when he began publishing stories and serialized novels in Dickens's publications, Household Words and All the Year Round. His best-known works are The Woman in White and The Moonstone, both of which -- along with Basil -- have been made into films.

Collins often alludes to fantastic, supernatural happenings in his stories; the events themselves are usually borne out by reasonable explanations. What remains are the electrifying effects one human being can have upon another, for better and for worse. His main characters are often described in terms such as "remarkable," "extraordinary," and "singular," lending their actions -- and thereby the story -- a special urgency. In one of his great successes, 1860's The Woman in White, Collins spins what is basically a magnificent con story into something almost ghostly: The fates of two look-alike women -- a beautiful, well-off woman and a poor insane-asylum escapee -- are intertwined and manipulated by two evil men. One of those is among the best fictional villains ever created, the kill-‘em-with-kindness Count Fosco. Fosco is emblematic of another Collins hallmark -- antagonists who manage to throw their victims off guard by some powerful charm of personality or appearance.

The Moonstone, published in 1868, is regarded by many to be the first English detective novel. Starring the unassuming Sergeant Cuff, it follows the trail of a sought-after yellow diamond from India that has fallen into the wrong hands. Like The Woman in White, the novel is told in multiple first person narratives that display Collins's gift for distinctive and often humorous voices. Whether it is servants, foreigners, or the wealthy, Collins is an equal-opportunity satirist who quietly but deftly pokes fun at human foibles even as he draws nuanced, memorable characters.

Though The Woman in White and The Moonstone are Collins's standouts, he had a productive, consistent career; the novels Armadale, No Name and Poor Miss Finch are worthwhile reads, and his short stories will particularly appeal to Edgar Allan Poe fans. Fortunately in the case of this underappreciated writer, there are plenty of titles to appreciate.

Good To Know

Collins studied law, and though he never practiced as a lawyer, his knowledge of the subject is evident in his fiction. He also apprenticed with a tea merchant in his pre-publication years.

He was addicted to laudanum, a form of opium that he used to treat his pain from rheumatic gout.

Collins never married, but he had a long-term live-in relationship with one woman, and a second romance that produced three children.

He is named after popular artist Sir David Wilkie; both his parents were painters who counted Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth among their friends.

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    1. Also Known As:
      William Wilkie Collins (full name)
      Wilkie Collins
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 8, 1824
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Date of Death:
      September 23, 1889
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 14 )
Rating Distribution

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(6)

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(3)

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2005

    Nice Find, Enjoyable

    Another great by the master Wilkie. Intriguing plot that could easily fit with contemporary times. Great characters, lots of suspense and a real page-turner. My 2nd favorite Wilkie book after The Moonstone. Thought this was better than The Woman in White. A must for any mystery, Victorian, or Wilkie fan.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2010

    Another Winner

    Another work of art by Wilkie Collins. The more I read of his work the less I understand how unknown he and most of his works are. There is a romantic sensativity in all of his work, usually combined perfectly with suspense and mystery. You can't go wrong with his work, I highly recomend this and all of Collins' books.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Doesn't work well on ereaders

    Pulled from google digitization. Works terribly on eink based book readers

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2012

    Ummmmm

    Really hope it's good. Emily

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2011

    Very Very Slow

    I found myself skipping through the pages to pick up where there was actual dialog. This author spends ALOT of words on meandering unimportant things. Interesting story but in gets lost in the blah blah blah

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted February 2, 2013

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    Posted November 3, 2011

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    Posted December 10, 2013

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    Posted June 28, 2010

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